Cook Up Your Resonance: Drop the chicken!
Few people have informed my singing the way Julia Child did.
Here in the Midwest, we don't speak with much resonance. Out East, moreso. But where I come from in Wisconsin, we lock our jaws, freeze our lips, sink the sound to the back of our throats, and cut off all signs of resonance. It's a vast tundra of non-resonant speaking and lack of pronunciation.
This is not helpful when you're learning Classical singing.
It's like only having months-old frozen hamburger in your freezer when you really want a nice, fresh filet mignon. Or my favorite, the New York strip. Yes, this smacks of Alanis Morissette's "Ironic." Very much so.
My first voice teacher, Nancy, tried and tried and tried to help me understand resonance: "the mask," the "inner smile," what it felt like, what it didn't feel like. She tried one thing, then another, then another, she stayed patient. I did not. I tried, I tried, I tried some more. It didn't grow. I felt awful. I just didn't get it.
My next teacher, Lila, looked at me and said
"Can you breathe through your mouth and keep your nose open? Let air flow in and out of both your mouth and your nose at the same time."
What, be a mouth-breather?"
"Yes," she laughed. "Be a mouth-breather for 30 minutes today. That's half of your car-ride home."
We worked on it--it felt bizarre. "Yes, that's it!" Lila said.
Then came Julia Child--in the voice lesson.
"You know Julia Child, right?"
"Of course! She's on PBS."
"OK, do you know the famous story of when she dropped the chicken on the floor, picked it up, and went on cooking?"
I was appalled. That's disgusting. The germ-freak side of me gagged.
"She simply said, 'Oh, damn, I dropped the chicken!' and kept on cooking."
I laughed! That was insane! Someone like Julia Child--with her reputation--that's all she said?! And picked it up off the dirty floor and went on cooking?!
"Try it. Imitate her saying, 'Oh damn, I dropped the chicken!' "
"OH DAMN, I DROPPED THE CHICKEN!"I said in the highest, most high-falutin' half-British, half-American I could muster.
That was it! My resonance opened up, I felt the buzz, "the mask" came alive, I smiled inside my nose (without having to raise my eyebrows).